Murrieta introduces temporary outdoor dining to help local restaurants during COVID-19

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Councilmember Jonathan Ingram, right, and Murrieta City Manager Kim Summers discuss agenda items regarding Murrieta’s Outdoor Dining Program and more at the special city council meeting, Tuesday, June 2. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Murrieta will be allowing local restaurants to temporarily use their private parking spaces for outdoor dining due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In response to the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had upon our dining establishments, the city is introducing the Outdoor Dining Program,” staff said in a statement at the special Murrieta City Council meeting Tuesday, June 2.

As the city of Murrieta declared a local emergency March 19, the governor has recently authorized Riverside County to enter Phase 2.5 of reopening, which allows restaurants to open for dine-in service at 25% of normal capacity.

Upholding social distancing requirements, restaurants are in need of additional space, staff reported. Murrieta city manager Kim Summers previously authorized restaurants to use their own parking spaces for outdoor dining because there is not enough inside space for these restaurants to allow for required social distancing. Using parking spaces for restaurant seating space does not mean there will be an increase in seating altogether, but rather a transition of placement. Parking spaces adjacent to the restaurant will be used.

Outdoor dining cannot block fire lanes or Americans with Disabilities Act access and obtaining property manager approval is required. Outdoor dining won’t block normal driving road access.

Staff recommended that the city council acknowledge the city council manager’s actions allowing the temporary use of private parking spaces for restaurants to outdoor dining and waive any permits or fees associated with temporary outdoor dining in compliance with the governor’s orders.

The motion passed unanimously.

Over the past two weeks, Mayor Gene Wunderlich and Councilmember Kelly Seyarto participated in the regional COVID-19 testing public service event at the Lake Elsinore Diamond, May 21, along with council members and others to encourage a wider range of participation to get tested within the community.

“It’s very important to get tested out there,” Wunderlich said, adding it allowed the city to reopen in phases sooner than anticipated while complying with county guidelines. Wunderlich asked that healthy people get tested, as “it helps keep incidents very low.”

A testing center is now open in Temecula as well as several other locations throughout Riverside County.

Wunderlich attended several coalition meetings this week, and in a statement said that these meetings are being attended for specifically one sole purpose.

Emphasis is now being placed on encouraging and supporting the safe reopening of local businesses and advocating to the federal government for sales tax backfill assistance in the next round of relief bills coming out of Washington.

Nothing so far has been directed to cities with a population under 500,000, which includes Murrieta.

“We could really use the help, because obviously this has cost all of our cities a significant amount of money both in keeping up with what’s going on as well as losses of revenue from sales tax with our businesses essentially shut down,” Wunderlich said in regards to the city advocating for money to come back in some manner.

In a presentation for staff consideration, staff proposed the allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds being used toward a small business grant program that would support the city’s efforts to assist the community in getting back to business.

CDBG funds are federal and provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and are allocated to cities, the state and counties for the purpose of community development activities.

Under the city’s current program model, the city receives CDBG funds from the county and the city council decides how to allocate the funds.

CDBG funds have to meet one of three national objectives: benefit low-and-moderate-income persons; aid in the prevention or elimination of blight or meet community development needs having a particular urgency.

The proposed Back to Business Grant Program is meant to meet the first objective.

“At least 51% of all employees assisted must be considered to be low to moderate income,” staff said.

The city currently has $455,907 funds available, and these funds are from two projects that the city did not move forward to complete, which has allowed the funds to be available to reallocate if approved.

Staff recommended that the council reprogram $250,000 to go back to the Back to Business Grant Program, which council approved.

The reprogramming of these funds will not affect CDBG funding already provided to nonprofits for this fiscal year.

Staff also recommended city council reprogram $100,000 to go toward nonprofits that have been affected due to COVID-19.

For more information on the Back to Business Grant Program, the Murrieta Outdoor Dining Program or other agenda items, visit https://vimeo.com/cityofmurrieta.

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at lhowe@reedermedia.com.